I did the most critical tests first. Number one was the integrity of the Hab canvas. I felt pretty confident it was in good shape, cause I’d spent a few hours asleep in the rover before returning to the Hab, and the pressure was still good. The computer reported no change pressure over that time, other than a minor fluctuation based on temperature.
Then I checked the Oxygenator. If that stops working and I can’t fix it, I’m a dead man. No problems.
Then the Atmospheric Regulator. Again, no problem.
Heating unit, primary battery array, O2 and N2 storage tanks, Water Reclaimer, all three airlocks, lighting systems, main computer… on and on I went, feeling better and better as each system proved to be in perfect working order.
Got to hand it to NASA. They don’t fuck around when making this stuff.
Then came the critical part… checking the dirt. Taking a few samples from all over the Hab (remember, it’s all dirt flooring now), I made some slides.
I took them over to the microscope and checked up on my beloved bacteria. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw healthy, active bacteria doing their thing.
Then I set about cleaning up the mess. And I had a lot of time to think about what had happened.
So what happened? Well, I have a theory.
According to the main computer, during the blast, the internal pressure spiked to 1.4 atmospheres, and the temperature rose to 15C in under a second. But the pressure quickly subsided back to 1atm. This would make sense if the Atmospheric Regulator were on, but I’d cut power to it.
The temperature remained 15C for some time afterward, so any heat expansion should still have been present. But the pressure dropped down again, so where did that extra pressure go? Raising the temperature and keeping the same number of atoms inside should permanently raise the pressure. But it didn’t.
I quickly realized the answer. The hydrogen (the only available thing to burn) combined with oxygen (hence combustion) and became water. Water is a thousand times as dense as a gas. So the heat added to the pressure, and the transformation of hydrogen and oxygen in to water brought it back down again.
The million dollar question is: Where the hell did the oxygen come from? The whole plan was to limit oxygen and keep an explosion from happening. And it was working for quite a while before blowing up.
I think I have my answer. And it comes down to me brain-farting. Remember when I decided not to wear a spacesuit? That decision almost killed me.
The medical O2 tank mixes pure oxygen with surrounding air, then feeds it to you through a mask. The mask stays on your face with a little rubber band that goes around the back of your neck. Not an air-tight seal.
I know what you’re thinking. The mask leaked oxygen. But no. I was breathing the oxygen. When I was inhaling, I made a nearly airtight seal with the mask by sucking it to my face.
The problem was the exhale. Do you know how much oxygen you absorb out of the air when you take a normal breath? I don’t know either, but it’s not 100%. With every breath, I was taking in oxygen, my lungs grabbed some of it, then I was breathing it out into the Hab. Every time I exhaled, I added more oxygen to the system.
It just didn’t occur to me. But it should have. If your lungs grabbed up all the oxygen, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation wouldn’t work. I’m such a dumb-ass for not thinking of it! And my dumbassery almost got me killed!
I’m really going to have to be more careful.
It’s a good thing I burned off most of the hydrogen before the explosion. Otherwise that would have been the end. As it is, the explosion wasn’t strong enough to pop the Hab. Though it was strong enough to almost blast my eardrums in.
The Water Reclaimer did its job last night and pulled another 50L of water out of the air. Long ago before hydrogen became the focus of my life, my problem was the 60L shortfall in water production. 50L of it is now in Lewis’s spacesuit, which I’ll call “The Cistern” from now on because it sounds cooler. The other 10L of water was absorbed by the dry soil.
Lots of physical labor today. I’ve earned a full meal. And to celebrate my first night back in the Hab, I’ll kick back and watch some shitty 20th century TV courtesy of Commander Lewis.
“The Dukes of Hazzard,” eh? Let’s give it a whirl.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 42
I slept in late today. I deserved it. After four nights of awful sleep in the rover, my bunk felt like the softest, most profoundly beautiful featherbed ever made.
Anyway, I dragged my ass out of bed and finished some post-explosion cleanup.
I moved the potato plants back in today. And just in time, too. They’re sprouting. They look healthy and happy. This isn’t chemistry, medicine, bacteriology, nutrition analysis, explosion dynamics, or any other shit I’ve been doing lately, this is botany. I’m sure I can at least grow some plants without fucking up.
You know what really sucks? I’ve only made 130L of water. I have another 470L to go. You’d think after almost killing myself twice, I’d stop screwing around with hydrazine. But nope. I’ll be reducing hydrazine and burning hydrogen in the Hab, every 10 hours, for another 10 days. Let’s hope I do a better job of it from now on.
I’ll have a lot of dead time. 10 hours for each tank of C02 to finish filling. It only takes 20 minutes to reduce the hydrazine and burn the hydrogen. I’ll spend the rest of the time watching TV.
And seriously… It’s clear the General Lee can outrun a police cruiser. Why doesn’t Roscoe just go to the Duke farm and arrest them when they’re not in the car?
Venkat returned to his office, dropped his briefcase on the floor, and collapsed into his leather chair. He took a moment to look out the windows at his scenic view of the Johnson Space Center.
Glancing at his computer screen, he noted 47 unread emails urgently demanding his attention. They could wait. Today had been a sad day. Today was the memorial service for Mark Watney.
The President had given a speech, praising Watney’s bravery and sacrifice, and the quick actions of Commander Lewis in getting everyone else to safety. Commander Lewis and the surviving crew, via long range communication from Hermes, gave eulogies to their departed comrade from deep space. They had another ten months of travel yet to endure.
The Director had given a speech as well, reminding everyone that space flight is incredibly dangerous, and how we will not back down in the face of adversity.
During preparation for the service, they’d asked Venkat if he was willing to make a speech. He’d declined. What was the point? Watney was dead. Nice words form the Director of Mars Missions wouldn’t bring him back.